Poster U of L had printed after the NCAA title run.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Mike Krzyzewski coined the phrase. The Duke coach had just watched the University of Louisville dismantle his team in the NCAA Elite Eight last March, and he was trying to find the right term to describe what he'd just seen.
"I thought we had a chance there, and then boom," Krzyzewski said. "And that's what they do to teams. They can boom you. They, whatever, my vocabulary isn't very good, but you I hope you understand what I mean. It's a positive thing for them. Not for us. . . . They were terrific today. We would have to play great to beat them today, and we were playing pretty well. And then, boom, there's that. Now I'm going to say that for the rest of my life."
Him, and everyone around the Louisville program. After his team won the championship, Pitino had printed up a limited edition set of posters with his team in the national championship locker room, with the title, "Boom Boys."
But it turns out, that wasn't just a championship-year phenomenon. Louisville blitzed Duke with a 20-4 run to inspire Krzyzewski to give it a name, but U of L has been blitzing people throughout its 18-game winning streak that would become a school record 19th in a row if it beats Cornell tonight in the KFC Yum! Center.
Last season alone, U of L had 59 runs of 8-0 or better. But during the win streak, it has gone on even longer runs. And in the first two games this season, the "boom" quality has resurfaced. U of L buried Hofstra with a 25-2 run, and put away the College of Charleston with a 22-3 run at the end of the game.
On Thursday U of L coach Rick Pitino was asked to come with some kind of explanation for why, or how.
"I think pressing teams have runs, but this is sort of unusual, some of the runs we're having," Pitino said. "You don't usually see that. You don't see, what was Syracuse, 44-10? You don't usually see that. I've had runs all my life as a pressing coach, but not like the last two years. So, I'm not sure really why that is. I really can't put my finger on one thing, but I'm happy about it, and I think it's a good thing, it's exciting. These guys adjust to the system because they understand it. We have carryover from year to year."
That was good. But it wasn't scientific. So WDRB went back through U of L's current winning steak, trying to identify the biggest runs, and what went into creating them. I found a dozen runs of 14-3 or better over the past 18 games. The average scoring in those runs: 21.4 to 4.4.
And that's just the beginning of the numbers. When Pitino was asked for the anatomy of a run, he said, "Generally it's a steal, it's a dunk, it's defensive havoc creating offensive efficiency."
His off-the-cuff explanation was pretty close. Here are the four keys of the runs I examined, starting with defense. It was, in fact, the only constant. U of L shot the ball well in all but a couple of its runs -- but in all of them, the defense either held the opponent to an abysmally low percentage, or forced an unusually high number of turnovers.
So starting with defense, the anatomy of U of L's "boom" business:
1. Defense. If you look at U of L's major runs during its winning streak, they were more dependent on causing turnovers early in the streak, but became less so as last season wore on, to the point that when they mounted major runs against Duke and Michigan in the NCAA Tournament, the opponent had only one turnover during each of those runs. More important defensively is limiting field goals and even attempts, either by turnovers or rebounding. During its major runs of the current winning streak, U of L has allowed opponents to take only 90 shots, while making 95 itself. Opponent shooting percentage during the winning streak runs "boom" times is 16.7 percent (15 of 90). Think about this: In the major runs of their current winning streak, the Cardinals have given up 53 points. That would be a stingy defensive number for a single game. But the time played actually equates to two and a half games. If you took the average of scoring during U of L's "booms" and applied it to a 40-minute game model, the score would be 114-24.
2. Rebounding. You might not equate rebounding with "booming" anyone, but in fact in U of L's recent streak it has been more of a catalyst than turnovers. In the decisive run of the national championship game, U of L outrebounded Michigan 5-0 over a 3:02 stretch to turn a 12-point deficit into a one-point lead. It outrebounded Duke 10-5 in its 20-4 run against the Blue Devils.
3. The hot hand. In every "boom" but one, U of L's leading scorer has outscored the opponent's entire team. There was Luke Hancock with four threes against Michigan. Half the time, that player has been Russ Smith. He had 10 quick points to get the Cards rolling against Hofstra. He had 13 in less than 3 1/2 minutes against Colorado State in the NCAA Tournament last season. Interesting fact: With the exception of Gorgui Dieng's 8 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block keying the Cards in a 20-4 run over Duke in last season's Elite Eight, every player to lead Louisville in scoring during a "boom" run in its current winning streak is a player still on the team.
4. Shooting. To have a run, you have to score, and something keys the Cardinals to get hot. Often it's a couple of scores in quick succession. They can be threes in the half-court offense. Back-to-back layups off steals. Feeding off a slam dunk. During their major winning streak runs, the Cardinals have shot 61 percent (95-155). It's interesting to note that early in the win streak, shooting was less of a factor. In three of their first four "boom" moments, the Cards shooting was 50 percent or worse. In the rest, 60 percent or better.
5. Intangible. There is, however, an indefinable quality that shouldn't be lost in the statistical analysis. "You just start to feel it," Russ Smith said last season. "You can almost feel it before it happens, like, 'Here it comes.'" There's no common duration, but the average length of one of these massive runs is about seven and a half minutes. During that stretch, U of L will typically force about nine turnovers, though the turnovers don't always lead to points. Just getting the ball back, creating possessions and a fast pace, and limiting opponent opportunities, seem to be enough to get things going.
"I'm not totally sure," Pitino said. "But I like it."
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